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Lupita Nyong'o Looked to Siri And Alexa For Inspiration In Voicing AI Robot in 'The Wild Robot'

Based on Peter Brown’s THE WILD ROBOT, an AI service robot named Roz becomes stranded on an island after a shipwreck. Roz learns from the animal inhabitants and cares for a baby goose she orphaned.

At the DreamWorks Studios in Glendale, California, the Director and star revealed their approach to making the film and crafting the voice behind Roz, the artificially intelligent robot.

Sanders approached THE WILD ROBOT differently than any of his previous animation work. The filmmaker loved the animation style of Dreamwork’s PUSS N’ BOOTS: THE LAST WISH, describing the work as "sophisticated" and "illustrative."

“Because of the nature of the story and elements in it. If we had done this in what has become a very traditional CG style, I don't think it would've played right. This story has great emotional depth. The only way to get that across was with a relatively sophisticated look. That's where I got really lucky because I was here at DreamWorks. And DreamWorks I've made great, great advances and strides and the look of these animated films. They have developed a look that is very illustrative and I knew that's what we needed for this film.”

Sanders screened the first 10 minutes of the film during the presentation. In the exclusive clip, a box washes up on shore, and a family of otters looks at the strange object when something inside of it comes alive. The round robot comes to life and introduces itself to the otters and offers assistance but they immediately scatter in the water. Soon the other island creatures become curious in the strange talking object especially the thieving raccoons. Roz, being an AI robot, quickly learns the animals' language. As Roz is being chased by a bear, she inadvertently destroys a gooses nest, except for one egg.

In another extended clip from Act II, we see Roz and the furry friends teaching the fledgling goose to fly in some very funny moments. The scene comes to a happy ending, but the director reveals the story is midway. Then a new trailer shows her actions will have consequences for her makers.

Sanders looked to Lupita Nyong’o to fill the voice of Roz the robot. The Academy Award-winning actress joined Sanders at the presentation. Playing a programmed being is unlike anything the actor has tackled before.

“How am I going to play a robot? " she asked herself. “What is there to do as an actor if you can’t rely on emotions.” The actor adds “My currency is emotion.”

Lupita Nyong'o Director Chris Sanders at Dreamworks The Wild Robot exclusive look

Before committing, Nyong’o had numerous “honest” discussions with Sanders. She admitted her honesty and frankness often get her in trouble.

"I feel strongest when I can be honest about how I feel and strongest when I can be kind, not nice." That frankness gets me into trouble sometimes, especially in Los Angeles.” She adds, “If you have a certain ego, we can’t roll.”

Once Nyong’o felt comfortable with the character's direction and knew Sanders would be open to collaboration, she signed on.

The Mexican-born actor referenced Siri and Alex when crafting Roz’s voice. She went for the same high-pitched tone with what she calls “programming optimism.”

“Siri and these things, they try to relay that high-pitched, friendly kind of non-threatening female sound. That's what I was going for.”

The time in the recording booth proved difficult for Nyong’o to maintain that high pitch, specifically in the beginning when Roz is learning a different language to communicate with the animals which she compares to a “newborn baby.”

"In one session, we worked many hours," says Sanders. "We may have damaged her voice for a few days." "A few days, ha!," retorts Nyong'o. "We would take your voice to place that wasn't a comfortable place to be," he added.

Ultimately, Nyong's hard vocal work paid off. Having watched an unfinished draft of the film, she was happily surprised. “In animation, you really are exercising faith in the creator,” she said.

The voice is everything and judging from the first look at 20 minutes of footage, be prepared to add Roz to your favorite movie robots next to Iron Giant and Wall-E.

THE WILD ROBOT is slated for release on September 27, 2024.

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